Moving Grain: DOT Releases National Freight Strategic Plan

    Grain elevator and train at Canton, Kansas Photo: K-State Research and Extension - Creative Commons

    USDOT Releases National Freight Strategic Plan

    On September 4, the U.S Department of Transportation released its first National Freight Strategic Plan (NFSP). According to DOT, NFSP assesses the system’s current conditions and performance barriers, defines the agency’s vision and goals for the national multimodal freight system, and defines strategies toward achieving DOT’s vision and goals.

    NFSP emerged through a multiagency effort involving consultation with freight stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. DOT plans to use NFSP to guide national freight policy, programs, initiatives, and investments; inform State freight plans; identify freight data and research needs; and provide a framework for increased cross-sector, multijurisdictional, and multimodal coordination and partnerships.

    STB Adopts Final Rule for Improving Its Waybill Sample Data Collection

    On September 3, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) adopted a final rule for improving its “waybill sample” data collection. STB’s waybill data is among the most comprehensive collected on rail freight movements. A waybill is a document used by railroads to move shipments. It contains information, such as the carriers involved, the number and type of cars, the movement weight, and the freight revenue.

    The rule is expected to create a more robust dataset for decision-making and analyses by increasing the sampling rates of certain non-intermodal carload shipments, specifying separate sampling strata and rates for intermodal shipments, and eliminating the manual system for reporting waybill data.

    The final rule will be effective on January 1, 2021, to allow reporting carriers sufficient time to prepare for the revised requirements.

    FMCSA Announces Pilot Program To Probe More Flexibility in HOS

    The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requests comments, by November 2, on a proposed pilot program for commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders who meet specified criteria. The Split Duty Period Pilot Program would temporarily modify the hours-of-service (HOS) requirement that drivers of property-carrying commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) must complete all their driving within 14 hours of their coming on duty.

    CMV drivers in the pilot would have the option to pause their 14-hour on-duty period (driving window) with one off-duty period not less than 30 minutes and not more than 3 hours. The program aims to collect hard evidence on how to align HOS flexibility with the scheduling preferences of employers, shippers, and receivers—i.e., how to optimize productivity, while ensuring safety is as good as or better than without the HOS modification.

    Snapshots by Sector

    Export Sales

    For the week ending August 27, unshipped balances of wheat, corn, and soybeans totaled 11.4 million metric tons (mmt). This represented a 34-percent increase in outstanding sales from the same time last year.

    Net corn export sales were 0.096 mmt, down 65 percent from the past week. Net soybean export sales were 0.088 mmt, up 75 percent from the previous week. Net weekly wheat export sales were 0.586 mmt, down 23 percent from the previous week.


    U.S. Class I railroads originated 21,663 grain carloads during the week ending August 29. This was a 4-percent decrease from the previous week, 2 percent less than last year, and 1 percent more than the 3-year average.

    Average September shuttle secondary railcar bids/offers (per car) were $556 above tariff for the week ending September 3. This was $248 less than last week and $898 more than this week last year. There were no non-shuttle bids/offers this week.


    For the week ending September 5, barge grain movements totaled 799,182 tons. This was 5 percent less than the previous week and 124 percent more than the same period last year. For the week ending September 5, 510 grain barges moved down river—29 more barges than the previous week. There were 824 grain barges unloaded in New Orleans, 90 percent more than the previous week.


    For the week ending September 3, 35 oceangoing grain vessels were loaded in the Gulf—9 percent more than the same period last year. Within the next 10 days (starting September 4), 68 vessels were expected to be loaded—106 percent more than the same period last year.

    As of September 3, the rate for shipping a metric ton (mt) of grain from the U.S. Gulf to Japan was $45.00. This was unchanged from the previous week. The rate from the Pacific Northwest (PNW) to Japan was $24.75 per mt, unchanged from the previous week.


    For the week ending September 7, the U.S. average diesel fuel price decreased 0.6 cents from the previous week to $2.435 per gallon, 53.6 cents below the same week last year.

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